Monday, June 06, 2005


Beating the box office blahs
The Memorial Day weekend gave Hollywood a much-needed lift. But can it last?
go to original article ... or email me for article text
"Don't expect those huge sighs of relief coming from movie industry executives this week to last."

The overall box office tallied $128.3 million, off a huge 30 percent from the comparable weekend a year ago. It marked the 15th consecutive weekend of lower grosses than last year. "It feels like the movie business is in a malaise," Universal Pictures Chairman Stacey Snider told USA Today
When I first saw this word on one of the title card's for Kevin Smith's Clerks I didn't have any idea what it meant. But it says it all. Or maybe a more timely reference from Star Wars is more appropriate. "I have a bad feeling about this."

The bad feeling is inescapable. Every angle I keep tabs on (from studio briefings to video rental news) is projecting the same sinking feeling about the state of the movie industry. I wouldn't put too much stock in the apparant slump in Box office receipts and attendance figures from last year (seeing as it was a record year, there was probably nowhere to go but down), but something scary is happening. All my previous posts on the subject have resisted admitting any fear, but I think there's something to be afraid of.

Although it's not as scary as it may seem.

It's not the kind of fear that comes from a disruptive technology being introduced. It's not like on demand video appeared out of nowhere and made people fundamentally change the way they think about their lives. The convergence of movies into the home has been happening, slowly and steadily through a multitude of sources. Network premieres on ABC. Television premieres on TBS. Shrinking DVD release windows. Pre-viewed dvd sales at blockbuster. BitTorrent pirating on the internet. The idea has been around in our collective minds for a long time. It's only now that it's catching up to the industry

Here's who should be scared. The studios should be scared that they've painted themselves into a corner by alienating the theaters (not the chains) that show their wares. They've made it so impossible to make any money off of showing a studio release that it finally became too much for the moviegoers to handle. Between standing in line and sitting through ads and paying up to 10.50 for a single movie ticket (all things that theater owners are practically powerless to change) The thought of staying home to watch a movie has become resoundingly more attractive than going out. Although, as the article says, the studios may have little incentive to change their complicated revenue sharing schemes because they make their money on DVD releases.

The owners of theater chains should be scared that they overvalued the market for bad, big budget movies and diverted all of their resources to collaborate with the studios to saturate it with crap. And it's backfiring like a Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez collaboration. Big budget films are losing all credibility with any sort of savvy movie audience because they know how prone a studio will be to putting out anything that will sell (regardless of it's quality). And part of the reason for this is the fact that the theaters even play these movies. Maybe the big chains had to sell their souls at some point just to make any sort of deals with the studios. Like to get at the good content, they had to screen the bad as well. But showing bad movies does more damage to their negotiating position with their patrons than perhaps they anticipated. They should learn from this when renegotiating their stance with distributors and when choosing what to market.
"At some point, there will have to be some kind of ticket-price adjustment just to get people back into theaters," said Dergarabedian.
It's. About. Time.

I'll resist them temptation to reiterate this, commonly visited, topic. But that's not all.

Theater owners responded then with giveaways and other gimmicks to lure audiences to the theater.

"They would use any promotion you could think of just to...get people off their couches," said Bucksbaum. He said one theater gave away dinner dishes; another installed seatbelts to convey excitement.

I'm all for this. Every year at SHOWEST they give away awards for the most effective and fun theater-specific marketing campaigns, and it sounds like the most fun part about running a movie theater. It not only engages the community into coming, but it endears the theater and the film to the theater workers that promote them. Increased levels of faith all around.

On a somewhat related note, I really like this Bucksbaum character (quoted above). I recently came across his name when my uncle (who is more immersed in movie culture and movie going than anyone I know, and thus my hero) told me that his theater, "The Crest" in LA is his favorite. You should definitely check out the website and history of the theater. Bucksbaum used his life savings to buy his theater AND works at a box office tracking firm. Thus, he is also my hero.

I was going to write a dedicated post to the Bucksbaum and the crest, but after seeing his name in this article, the measure of coincidence was just too high for me to resist. :)


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